How 2 American Whistleblowers Allegedly Tortured in Iraq May Force Donald Rumsfeld to Pay for His Crimes

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Monday refused to dismiss a lawsuit against former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for creating policies that caused American civilians to be tortured by the U.S. military in Iraq.


In a 2 to 1 decision, the court ruled that the lawsuit filed by Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel, two American citizens who were allegedly tortured at a U.S. military prison in Iraq in 2006, provided adequate evidence that Rumsfeld was personally responsible for their treatment and that Rumsfeld was not entitled to qualified immunity.

"If the plaintiffs’ allegations are true, two young American civilians were trying to do the right thing by becoming whistleblowers to the U.S. government, but found themselves detained in prison and tortured by their own government, without notice to their families and with no sign of when the harsh physical and psychological abuse would end," they wrote their decision (PDF).

The court did not address the factual allegations made by Vance and Ertel, only the validity of their lawsuit. The former Bush and current Obama administration have tried to have the case dismissed.

The two young men moved to Iraq in 2005 and 2006 to help "rebuild the country and achieve democracy." They worked for a privately-owned security company called Shield Group Security.

Vance and Ertel began working with the FBI after they became suspicious that Shield Group Security was engaged in corruption and other illegal activities. The two men shared Shield Group Security documents with U.S. officials and reported their observations, including evidence that U.S. and Iraqi government officials were involved with illegal arms trading, stockpiling of weapons, and bribery.

Shield Group Security soon became suspicious of Vance and Ertel's loyalty to the firm. The company revoked the credentials that allowed them to travel inside the "Green Zone," effectively trapping them inside the dangerous "Red Zone" in Baghdad.

After contacting U.S. officials, the two men were told to barricade themselves inside Shield Group Security's compound. U.S. military forces then rescued Vance and Ertel from the compound and took them to the U.S. Embassy for questioning.

In the middle of the night, they were arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and transferred to Camp Prosperity, where they claim to have been held in solitary confinement for two days and threatened with "excessive force."

Vance and Ertel were then transferred to Camp Cropper, where they were allegedly psychologically and physically tortured for the duration of their imprisonment.

They were both kept in solitary confinement. Their cells were kept intolerably cold and the lights were never turned off. Both men slept on a concrete slab. Guards would wake them if they were ever caught sleeping and blast heavy metal music into their cells at "intolerably-loud volumes." The two men were also allegedly slammed into concrete walls while blindfolded.

Vance and Ertel were eventually released. Neither was charged with any crime or other wrongdoing.

After returning to the United States, the two men sued Rumsfeld as well as unidentified defendants.

Last week, U.S. District Judge James Gwin ruled that another lawsuit against Rumsfeld could proceed to trial. The plaintiff in that case claims he was abducted by U.S. military personnel in 2005 as he was due to return home from Iraq. Over the course of nine months he was allegedly beaten and interrogated about providing classified information to coalition enemies, then was released without explanation. He was never charged with a crime.

Rumsfeld, an outspoken and highly controversial secretary of defense who oversaw the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, left his post after President George W. Bush was reelected to a second term.

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